Castro's sister wins suit
Fidel Castro's sister has won a libel suit she filed over a book written by the dictator's daughter. She says it defamed her family.
BY FRANCES ROBLES
Fidel Castro's sister Juanita is feeling vindicated, even if her relief required a libel suit against his daughter that dragged on for seven years and cost more than $100,000.
Juanita Castro sees the fortune she spent suing her niece, Alina Fernández Revuelta, as the best money she's ever spent -- an investment in family honor.
''People who were eating off Fidel's plate yesterday come here and want money and power, so they say whatever they want, even if it's not true,'' said Juanita, who owns a Miami pharmacy. ``They can do whatever way they want, but not by offending my parents.
``My parents are sacred.''
Juanita recently won a 1998 lawsuit she filed in Spain against Fernández, the ruler's illegitimate daughter, who used a wig and fake Spanish passport to defect to Madrid. Fernández published her memoirs four years later.
Juanita says she tossed ''Alina: The Memoirs of Fidel Castro's Rebel Daughter'' to the floor in a fit of fury after reading just a few pages.
Her ire was directed at the passages about Angel Castro and Lina Ruz, the parents of Fidel and Juanita. Fernández describes her grandfather as a murderous thief and her abuela as a mixed-race sorceress. Lina's father? She says he was a Turk who stole from the blind.
Angel, she wrote, was a chieftain in a lost corner of Cuba, who when he met Lina ''tore the clothes off a little girl with his kind claws.'' He found obedient and cheap labor by recruiting peasants from his hometown region of Galicia, Spain.
''He would promise to take care of their savings, making them buy from his own store,'' Fernández wrote. ``And later, when they had served their contracts, he took them to an isolated place and killed them.''
The passages make up a tiny portion of the 251-page tome, but a Barcelona court ruled they libeled the Castro family. The court ordered Fernández and Plaza & Janes, the Barcelona Random House division that published the book, to pay about $45,000.
They will also have to publicly retract what they printed, pull existing copies off the shelves and cease publication. The ruling was mostly moot: The book was already out of print. An English version, published under the title Castro's Daughter: An Exile's Memoir of Cuba, lacks the offending passages.
The Spanish Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, meaning the verdict is final.
''This is very unexpected,'' said Fernández, who hosts a radio show on WQBA. 'But I guess you never know where peoples' -- judges' -- sympathies lay.''
Fernández said she learned of the three-month-old verdict from the Herald. Court records show her lawyers never showed up at the 2002 Supreme Court hearing.
A Random House spokesman in New York said the publishing house would have no comment. In Barcelona, the entire Plaza & Janes management staff took August off and is unavailable for comment, a secretary said.
Fernández said she's not sure how many books were sold, but that the suit stopped a second printing. She wound up paying lawyers to defend a book that cost her more money than it made.
But she defends her autobiography, saying the Angel Castro lore was well known in Cuba.
''I was guided by bibliographies and witnesses,'' she said. ``This is what happens when you are honest.''
There is no shortage of books about Fidel Castro, and a number of them touch on the dubious origins of the family riches. Juanita blasts historians -- who she dubs ''copiers'' -- as lazy hacks who repeated unverified misinformation. If she had sued them all, she said, she'd be a millionaire.
Biographers describe Angel Castro as an illiterate mercenary who first came to Cuba as a calvary quartermaster for the Spanish colonial army, paid by a rich man to take his place on the frontlines.
After the war, Angel settled in Birán, in the eastern province of Oriente, established a large rural estate and dabbled in various business ventures that made him rich. His first marriage ended in divorce and he married Lina, a family servant roughly half his age, after the future Cuban leader was born.
Several biographers say he was most known for riding his horse under the light of the moon, so he could expand his territories by moving the fences around his property. His neighbors were the United Fruit Co., and he is alleged to have painted their tractors and taken them for himself.
''He was very, very successful,'' said Brian Latell, a retired CIA analyst on Cuba. ``Birán was a wild west frontier kind of place in the 1920s and 30s. There were outlaws roaming the hills.''
The elder Castro, he said, was known for importing peasant workers from Haiti. And he was tough.
''He had extraordinary leadership skills just like his two sons, Fidel and Raúl,'' said Latell, whose book After Fidel will be published in October. ``He had an extraordinary ability to get other men under his leadership to work.''
`A COW THIEF'
Other authors were less tactful.
''What Alina wrote was nothing,'' said Carlos Franqui, a former Castro ally who has authored several books about him. ``He was considered a cow thief who mistreated workers, particularly Haitians, and didn't follow the law. He bribed people. Those kinds of things have been published all over the world.
``This is not a ghost story.''
Longtime exile leader José Ignacio Rasco, a classmate of Fidel Castro's, agrees. He said Angel Castro was known for paying employees with coupons redeemable at his company store. ''He was a gangster with a machete,'' Rasco said.
But several experts, even Franqui, stressed that the elder Castro was also a product of his time, an era when there were no labor unions and owners mistreated workers.
Juanita Castro stresses that none of the hundreds of historians who have pored over her family's story went as far as accusing her dad of murder.
She is determined to see the public retraction, even if she has to pay for a full page ad herself.
''Part of my family was responsible for a lot of suffering in Cuba -- you can't change that,'' she said. ``But nobody has the right to offend Fidel's family. Insult Fidel -- there's plenty to say.''
Herald translator Renato Perez contributed to this report.